Wow! Now that’s one provocative question. Ask any connoisseur and we guarantee the answer will differ according to their personal opinion. However… Being as it’s a common question posed by those who contact Cognac Expert, we’re going to attempt to shed some light on what is truly a subjective topic – what is the taste of Cognac?

What Does Cognac Taste Like?
What does Cognac taste like?

Back to school to understand what Cognac tastes like

To truly understand what Cognac tastes like it’s necessary to distinguish what we actually mean by taste. And to do that it’s necessary for a quick re-cap on exactly what taste is. Because, contrary to popular belief, taste and flavor are actually two separate things.

Taste is literally a chemical sensation perceived by cells within the taste buds in the mouth. Most of us will probably remember from biology that there are five basic tastes:

  • Sweet
  • Sour
  • Salt
  • Bitter
  • Umami

OK, there’s evidence that there might now be more, but that’s an evolving science and not something we need to worry ourselves within this particular instance (Phew, thank goodness for that).

What Does Cognac Taste Like?
All human taste is based on 5 basic tastes

These tastes are then communicated via the nervous system to the brain.

Flavor, on the other hand, fuses various different sensations within the brain. These include the tastes signaled from our taste buds, but also add into the mix that of aroma, temperature, tactile stimuli, and even—in the case of certain spices—pain. And if you’ve ever bitten into a Ghost Chili or similar then you’ll know exactly what that means!

All of these senses are received by the brain, sifted into order, and the end result is what we call flavor.

So taking all that into consideration, rather than asking What does Cognac taste like?, the question should actually be, What is the flavor of Cognac?

What Does Cognac Taste Like?
Discovering the intricacies of Cognac flavors

Yeah, yeah. Taste, flavor, whatever… I just want to know what to expect when tasting Cognac

OK, so one unique aspect about Cognac is that it can only be created within the strictly limited growth region surrounding the town of Cognac. That means that all the grapes that are the base of every single Cognac come from the same area. Therefore the resulting juices from them are all influenced by the soil of the region.

What Does Cognac Taste Like?
The wonderful flavors of Cognac can all be traced back to the soils of the region

So, and now it gets a bit complicated. Although it would be easy to say that Cognac is a brandy and therefore tastes like brandy, this isn’t quite so. Because one of the constants regarding Cognac is that no other brandy grapes in the world are grown in this soil. Therefore no brandy will ever taste quite like Cognac.

The wonderful wheel of Cognac flavor and aroma

The skill of the cellar master comes into full play when determining when an eau-de-vie has matured to its utmost. These are then either enjoyed neat, as in a single vintage or within a blend. Each Cognac has its own aromas and flavors, and within a blend, they merge harmoniously with others to bring multiple sensory delights.

So you can expect to enjoy many different complex flavors. These include the more common ones, such as vine flowers, toasted bread, vanilla, cinnamon, dried apricots, and candied fruits. And the less common (and therefore highly prized), such as chocolate, leather, port, toffee, and spices. In general, the older the Cognac, the more likely you are to experience these lesser found aromas and flavors.

The “Cognac Wheel” divides these into the four seasons of Summer, Autumn, Winter, and Spring. As you can see, each is definitely a taste/smell that you’d associate with that season. To this end, Cognac Expert includes a tasting notes on each Cognac, making it easy to understand the flavors on offer, and to easily hone your search to one that suits your particular likes.

What Does Cognac Taste Like?
The Cognac aroma and flavor wheel

A massive undertaking—all in the name of research, of course

Discovering the secret flavors of an individual Cognac really is a part of discovering new offerings. The Cognac Expert team are doing their best to taste test as many Cognacs as we possibly can. But of course, this is a never-ending task being as there are thousands of them, with more being created all the time. But hey—we’re doing our best to work through them.

We often try to have tasting sessions where we’ll enjoy a variety of a certain quality or range within a brand and document our taste notes. We then present them to you, our lovely readers, in blogs such as Our 10 Favorite XO Cognacs: A Family Tasting.

What Does Cognac Taste Like?
The Cognac Expert team often undergo tasting sessions

When we carry out such sessions we first contemplate on the aroma. So naturally, asking the question, “What does Cognac smell like?” is a very important part of the flavor. That’s why in our tasting notes we always include the aroma, as well as what you can expect when you take a sip.

Because, quite simply, the two are linked so closely that you can’t have one without the other. Whatever wonders you experience on the nose will continue on the palate.

And let’s not forget the temperature

You might’ve noticed that we’re advocates of enjoying Cognac in many different ways. Such as over ice, direct from the freezer, at room temperature, or gently warmed within the hands in a brandy balloon for a few minutes before you sip. And we say this for good reason.

What Does Cognac Taste Like?
The temperature of your Cognac has a big impact on the flavor

Remember our “back to school” section above? Well, one of the sensations we mentioned that has to do with flavor is temperature. Your brain uses the fact that the Cognac is warm, cool, or even freezing to determine some very distinct flavor changes. And that’s why it’s a great idea to try a Cognac in different manners to experience the full range of flavors that it offers.

Well… We hope we’ve demystified the taste of Cognac a little, at least. The thing is, no two Cognacs taste the same. And the more you try, the more obvious this becomes. That’s why enjoying eau-de-vie really is a never ending journey—one we’re delighted to continue to explore.

What Does Cognac Taste Like?
The best way to understand the taste of Cognac is to try lots of different brands and types

And for those who skim read articles, here’s a special takeaway just for you when it comes to asking what does Cognac taste like?

1. Cognac is a unique brandy, so while it does indeed taste like brandy, it reflects the exclusive flavor sensations not found in other brandies.

2. Cognac has many different flavors, including spicy, fruity, sweet, and bitter.

3. Flavor is not only to do with taste, it’s also dependent on aroma and the temperature of the liquid. So a Cognac over ice will have a subtly different flavor to the same one being sipped at room temperature

4. Cognac Expert include an easy taste profile on every one of the Cognacs in our online shop. 

In short, the only way to really know what Cognac tastes like is to drink some. So enjoy…

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Jacki has been with Cognac Expert from virtually the beginning. She's the senior editor of the blog, and has spent much of her life living in rural France. Today she's based back in the UK, where she splits her working life between writing for Cognac Expert and working as a Paramedic at a large regional hospital.

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